Your first negative online review will feel horrible. And if you have been in a public-facing business for any length of time, it is bound to happen.
Once you recover from the surprise and disappointment of a negative review, it’s time to take positive action for your brand. Having a plan in place to handle it can make the difference in how people see your brand and public image. Here are seven steps that can help see you through it:
Stay Calm and Be Patient
When you see a negative review, your first step should be getting your emotions under control. Take 10 minutes (or up to a day) to settle your mind and come back to the comment. The worst thing you can do is go in swinging or say something you regret. Try to remember that the review and reply will be public.
Follow Your Company’s Policy for Negative Reviews
If you don’t have a policy in place for this, there is no time like the present to establish one. Put your policy in writing and include it in any training and policy manuals so that all employees know the proper procedure when a negative review comes to your attention. Your policy may include elements such as:
- How quickly should we respond to the review publicly? Is 24 hours enough time?
- Who is in charge of this issue? Assign ownership of brand management and online reviews to someone capable, prepared and responsible enough to handle the duty.
- What is the approved process for addressing the issue? This will vary wildly business to business, but should include politeness, professionalism and an attempt to empathize with the customer’s concern.
- Have you documented the incident? Record the incident and all steps taken for future records and training if necessary.
Monitor Your Reviews
Make it a point of emphasis to monitor your reviews. This may be a task delegated to the same individual in charge of handling the business’s procedure for negative reviews. Whoever is in charge of this process, you can’t address a negative review if you are not aware of it. Follow up on all popular and local review websites, including the Better Business Bureau and Yelp, to stay on top of your online reputation.
Don’t Take Reviews to Heart
It is natural to feel angry or at least annoyed by a negative review about your business, particularly if you feel the situation was not at all well-represented by the reviewer. But you cannot change the actions of others — you can only control your response. When it’s time to respond, be polite and professional. Replying in an abrasive or defensive manner will only diminish your reputation in the eyes of other customers.
Avoid Speculation About the Reviewer
There are people out there who will never be satisfied, and you can not always tell who you’re dealing with on a review. If you feel strongly that a reviewer is an angry former employee or an irritated party from your personal life who is trying to tear you down publicly, document everything and send a polite email to the company hosting the negative review explaining your case. If you don’t get a response there, it’s tempting to professionally present the “evidence” online to try and “out” the non-customer, but this should not be your typical response.
Trying to call an online reviewer out without proof will only damage your reputation and make you look a bit foolish. Treat every complaint as though it is sincere.
Refrain From Offering a Public Discount or Coupon
This is an easy one to figure out if you’re the potential customer: I go to your restaurant, or pretend that I did. I later complain about my experience. Since you typically give other complainers a free meal, I expect to receive one too.
Do not give a reviewer the incentive to give you a bad review. Always try to make it right with a customer, but do not try to mend fences in public. Address the concern publicly and apologize for the experience. Use a private conversation to offer compensation or any future discounts.
Handle Issues Privately
Moving issues to a private medium such as email or a phone call is far more desirable than in a public forum. Ask the reviewer to contact you directly so that you can discuss the issue and give you an opportunity to make it right. If the reviewer is truly upset, he will call or email.
Everyone who sees your reply to the negative review understands that you’ve attempted to fix the problem in a professional manner, helping to solidify your brand and reputation again.
When properly handled, each negative review is an opportunity to present your company as honorable and reliable. A reputation for dealing with negative reviews in a productive manner will inspire trust among prospective clients and over time, create new sales opportunities for your firm.